During the Kisan Samriddhi Sankalp rally on 6 June this year, the Congress president Rahul Gandhi charged Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, with many sins. At the rally, which took place in Mandsaur, in Madhya Pradesh, Gandhi said Modi had written off bad loans worth Rs 2.5 lakh crore given to private companies, while ignoring the demands of farmers to waive off their debt. Gandhi promised that if his government came to power, he would waive off all farmers’ loans within ten days. “You start the count when we come to power,” he thundered over the loudspeaker. “It won’t take till the eleventh day to waive off the loans.” The crowd cheered him on. To bolster his promise, he boasted about how the United Progressive Alliance had waived off farmers’ loans worth Rs 70,000 crore in 2009.
Over the course of the next five months, Gandhi gave many such speeches while canvassing for votes in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. He made the same promise to farmers in these states, in a similar, animated fashion. Loan waivers along with creation of jobs made it to Congress’s election manifestos for the assembly elections as well. However, the party’s stand on the Vyapam scam, and illegal mining—a perennial issue in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh—was missing from its manifestos.
On 11 December, Gandhi’s dynamic promises bore fruit—the Congress won the state assembly elections of Chhattisgarh with a full majority. In spite of emerging as the single-largest party in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, it was two seats short of winning the elections in both states. The next day, Congress formed post-poll alliances and staked its claim to form the government in these states as well.
Gandhi first interacted with the press on the day of the results itself. The tone of his statements was starkly different from his pre-election rallies—he did not reiterate or sound committed to his loan-waiver statement. He was, at best, ambiguous and diplomatic. Throughout the press conference, Gandhi seemed to demur from the promises he made before the assembly elections.
When asked by the press if he will live up to his promise of waiving farm loans, Gandhi replied, “As soon as we form our government, the process of loan waiver will begin.” He refrained from giving a timeline. As he had earlier bragged about the UPA’s 2009 loan waiver, Gandhi was then asked whether he would announce a similar package for farmers if his party came to power at the centre in 2019. He said, “Karja maafi ek supportive step hai, karja maafi solution nahi hai.”—Loan waiver is a supportive step, it is not a solution. “The solution is more complex. The solution would be about supporting the farmers, building infrastructure, and we will do that,” he added.